Tag Archives: Zechariah

Qur’an 21: The Prophets

The twenty-first chapter of the Qur’an opens with the last of the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist.
Time moves backwards as we meet his father Zechariah, other prophets, and and Tubal-Cain, and finally the moments before Creation. The Holy Spirit gives and we receive. The Holy Spirit overshadows the waters, overshadows Mary, and uses the prophets as mouthpieces. Through the Holy Spirit all things have immortality: the delights of the world will be for the just, but the wicked will see hell burn all the hotter for the creation they perverted.

Readings

Entrance Antiphon

The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
Genesis 1:2

A Reading, from the Book of Genesis:

Then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden. And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son — Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad; and Irad begot Mehujael, and Mehujael begot Methushael, and Methushael begot Lamech.

Then Lamech took for himself two wives: the name of one was Adah, and the name of the second was Zillah. And Adah bore Jabal. He was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal. He was the father of all those who play the harp and flute. And as for Zillah, she also bore Tubal-Cain, an instructor of every craftsman in bronze and iron. And the sister of Tubal-Cain was Naamah.

Then Lamech said to his wives:

“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
Wives of Lamech, listen to my speech!
For I have killed a man for wounding me,
Even a young man for hurting me.
If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold,
Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”
Genesis 4:16-24

A Psalm, from the Psalms:

For evildoers shall be cut off;
But those who wait on the LORD,
They shall inherit the earth.

For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more;
Indeed, you will look carefully for his place,
But it shall be no more.

But the meek shall inherit the earth, And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.
Psalms 37:9-11

A reading, from the Second Letter of St Peter:

Knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying,

“Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”

For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and

the earth
standing out of water
and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished,
being flooded with water.

But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
2 Peter 3:3-7

Alleluia, Alleluia

Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him.
Ezekiel 38:2

Alleluia, Alleluia

A Reading, from the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew

For Herod had laid hold of John and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. Because John had said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And although he wanted to put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet.

But when Herod’s birthday was celebrated, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask.

So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, “Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter.”

And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her. So he sent and had John beheaded in prison. And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. Then his disciples came and took away the body and buried it, and went and told Jesus.
Matthew 14:3-12

Communion Antiphon

And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”
Luke 1:35

A Qur’anic Homily

The Specific: John the Baptist and Herod Antipas

These are the last days. They have been the last days since the interrogation of John the Baptist, in front of the idiot Herod Antipas, whose heart was so set on magic tricks and his eyes on a belly dance that his ears missed the Word of the Spirit.

Mankind’s reckoning has drawn near to them, yet they are disregardful in obliviousness. There does not come to them any new reminder from their Lord but the listen to it as they play around, their hearts set on diversions. The wrongdoers secretly whisper together, “Is this not just a human being like yourselves? Will you give in to magic with open eyes?”

He said, “My Lord knows every word in the heaven and on the earth ,and He is the All-hearing, the All-knowing.”

But they said,

“Muddled dreams!”
“He has indeed fabricated it!”
“He is indeed a poet!”
“Let him bring us a sign like those sent to the former generations.”
Qur’an 21:1-5

The way this all began — the way the world was created — certainly was for men like John the Baptist. But not for Herod Antipas, not for the squandering of creation but rather the glorification of God through it. The serpent may bight now, but Christ and His Mother will crush its head.

We did not create the heaven and the earth and whatever is between them for play. Had We desired to take up some diversions We would have taken it up with Ourselves, were We to do. Indeed, We hurl the Truth against falsehood, and it crushes its head, and behold, falsehood vanishes! And woe to you for what you allege.
Qur’an 21:16-18

But let’s think more of Herod Antipas. Yes, he wanted to see magic tricks. Yes, he enjoyed a lap dance. Yes, he was foolish in promises. But — he wanted to hear. And later, he wondered if Jesus could be John, raised from the dead. Herod remembered what people said of the prophets. Even a man as lost as he could still see — dimly — the consequences of the Lord God, of life returned:

Have they taken gods from the earth who raise the dead? Had there been any gods in them other than God, they would surely have fallen apart. Clear is God, the Lord of the Throne, of what they allege.
Qur’an 21:21-22

The Pattern: Zachariah and Tubal-Cain

But the stories of John the Baptist and Herod Antipas are not just of one man executed by another. Consider another pair, separated by thousands of years: the father of John the Baptist and (one might say) the father of Herod Antipas. John’s father was Zachariah, a priest, and a righteous man.

And Zechariah, when he cried out to his Lord, “My Lord! Do not leave me without an heir and You are the best of inheritors.’ So We answered his prayer and gave him John and cured for him his wife. They were indeed active in good works, and they would supplicate Us with eagerness and awe and were humble before Us.
Qur’an 21:89-90

But God’s credit does not end at the gift of a child. He also gave things that are missed. The Qur’anic author gives God credit for the invention of armor, which in the Biblical tradition is associated with Tubal-Cain. Tubal’s name is given to the land of Tubal, governed by Prince Gog of Magog. And as a man, Tubal-Cain was intermediary between the murderer Cain and the murderer Lamech:

We taught him the making of coats of mail for you, to protect you from your violence. Will you then be grateful?
Qur’an 21:80

There’s a pattern here, a pattern of what is good and how man uses it. How man receives the gifts of the Spirit. For the things that protect man cannot save him apart from God:

Do they have gods besides Us to defend them? Neither can they help themselves, nor can they shield from Us. We have indeed provided for them and their fathers until they lived on for long hears. Do they not see how We visited the land diminishing it at its edges? Are they the ones who will prevail?
Qur’an 21:43-44

And no deed done, for God, is without reward

Whoever is faithful and does righteous deeds, his endeavor shall not go unappreciated, and We will indeed record it for him.
Qur’an 21:94

Cain’s lineage is an early split in humanity: there’s an Enoch descended from Cain, and another Enoch who judged angles. Tubal-Cain is removed in bot ancestry and age from Zechariah. But as Jesus wished that we and He could be One as He and the Father are One, to the Qur’anic author reminds us of our common Lord and our common call. Catholics today may[] dare to hope that all may be saved](http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2019/12/31/impressions-of-dare-we-hope-that-all-men-be-saved-with-a-short-discourse-on-hell-by-hans-urs-von-balthasar.html) — the Qur’anic author seemed to, as well.

This community of yours is indeed one community and I am your Lord. So worship Me. They have fragmented their religion among themselves; everyone of them will return to Us.
Qur’an 21:92

The Elemental: The Spirit and the Deep

So see the pattern.

John the Baptist and Herod the Great. The prophet, and he who misused creation. For one, his life on earth was but the earliest part of his glory. For the other, the deeds of the earth are the makings of his torment.

And continue to Zechariah, and Tubal-Cain. Both famous fathers, one of John the Baptist, the other of armor. From God we have the greatness of what they crafted, his family and his ironworks. Zechariah, being faithful to God, sees the lasting legacy be something he intended. Tubal-Cain sees the kind parts of his invention remembered, while the cruelties have no life of their own.

This pattern extends beyond the material world. John baptized with water, the symbol of chaos, the thing over which the Spirit of God hovered at Creation:

Have the faithless not regarded the heavens and the earth were interwoven and We unraveled them, and We made every living thing out of water? Will they not then have faith?
Qur’an 21:30

The Spirit of God, who also overshadowed Mary:

And her who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her of Our Spirit, and made her and her Son a sign for all the nations.
Qur’an 21:91

This combination of Spirit and the Deep — the life from beyond this world and the matter within this world — will either be the very thing that makes Hell so hot, or the very delights of paradise.

The Deep received the Spirit and, through Him, Creation.

Mary received the Spirit and, through Him, Jesus.

But human deeds and will, twisted, burn in the presence of the Spirit, for only Spirit upholds their existence, and the Spirit’s love to the wicked is as unquenchable fire.

Indeed, you and what you worship besides God will be fuel for hell, and you will enter it. Had they been gods, they would not have entered it, and they will all remain in it. Their lot therein will be groaning, and they will not hear anything in it.
Qur’an 21:98-100

So turn away from sin! Turn toward the Holy Spirit! The whole earth is given to you, as Christ’s life was given for you!

Certainly we wrote in the Psalms, after the Torah: “My righteous servants shall indeed inherit the earth.”
Qur’an 21:105

Even the end of the world, Gog and Magog, are part of the plan. With the Spirit all things will come to completion. Life and death, the Virgin Mary and Christ Jesus, the Natural World and the Supernatural Sacraments, all things are moved by the Spirit toward His ends!

It is forbidden for any town that We have destroyed: they shall not return until when Gog and Magog are let loose and they race down from every slope
Qur’an 21:95-96

Conclusion

The twenty-first chapter of the Qur’an, “The Prophets,” concerns the spokesmen for the Holy Spirit. The Qur’an author teaches that the Holy Spirit is at work in all things. The Qur’an’s author had earlier described the “We Believe,” the Nicene Creed, as emblematic of the rival non-Arian theology that he criticized. But in “The Prophets,” the Qur’anic author meets the Council, perhaps, halfway:

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life… who has spoken through the prophets.

The Protoevangelium of James

The Reformation and Counter-Reformation, both well-intentioned, separated much of the Christian world from their heritage. The great Christian debates of the late middle ages were collapsed into a ridiculous dispute over faith and works. Christian festivals and popular culture were lost all over western Europe, as described by Phillip Jenkins in The Many Faces of Christ by Phillip Jenkinks. One such popular work, ironically most Central preserved in Islam, but still remembered in the Orthodox and Catholic traditions, is The Protoevangelium [First-Gospel] of James. I once called it “Joseph/Mary fan fiction.” That’s correct. But the Protoevangelium takes place before the Gospels. Really, it’s a prequel.

Most Christian perspectives separate the Scriptures (that which was written down) and the Tradition (the guide to that which was written down, which itself was not written down). But it’s not always clear where one begins or one ends. Are the Catholic Deuterocanon, “Secondary” Scriptures like Tobit or Maccabees), part of the Scriptures or Tradition? What of prayers (like the Prayer of Mannasseh) and prayer-like works, such as 1 Enoch and 2 Esdras. Books in the above list are considered part of the Scriptures by at least some Christian traditions.

The Protoevangelium is not considered Scripture by anyone. But it captures much of the Tradition of many Christians. The Protoevangelium is something like the script of a nativity play, or a pre-cinematic of Christian films like The Passion of the Christ. Indeed, like Passion, Protoevangelium was written in an explicitly Catholic tradition, takes the Faith seriously, but also incorporates other devout but non-canonical and even imaginary material.

A Prequel

The Protoevangelium is to the Gospels what the Star Wars prequels were to the original trilogy. Like the Star Wars prequels, the Protoevangelium clearly takes place in the same “universe” as the Gospels and includes many of the same characters — to the point of implausibility.

A problem with prequels in general is that if the characters really did have these adventures, why were they forgotten? This happened to the Jedi in Star Wars. In the original film, Luke can hardly believe that Jedi were real. But only two decades before the Jedi were a highly visible arm of the central government with a large office building in the capital and a prominent role in economic rule-making. Is it really credible that everyone forgot this — that the mere existence of a government agency — be forgotten in twenty years?

There are many many articles, videos, and podcasts about this mystery, but the same could be asked of most popular prequels:

Protoevangelium questions might included

  • How did Joseph’s staff become not even a myth in the Gospels?
  • Why did everyone forget about Mary and Joseph?
  • Why did Jerusalem apparently become a much larger city in 30 years?

Of course, people can forget. Especially sick people. This is what distinguishes prequel-style blindness from the mental blindness of a legitimately dramatic figure, like King Saul in the Book of Samuel, where once-renounced individuals appear to be unknown, is the dual introduction of David son of Jesse. He is King Saul’s musician:

But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him. And Saul’s servants said to him, “Surely, a distressing spirit from God is troubling you. Let our master now command your servants, who are before you, to seek out a man who is a skillful player on the harp. And it shall be that he will play it with his hand when the distressing spirit from God is upon you, and you shall be well.”

So Saul said to his servants, “Provide me now a man who can play well, and bring him to me.”

Then one of the servants answered and said, “Look, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a mighty man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a handsome person; and the Lord is with him.”

Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse, and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.” And Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine, and a young goat, and sent them by his son David to Saul.
1 Samuel 16:14-20

yet when David offers to fight Goliath, Saul does not recognize him, and Saul’s assistant Abner does not point this out:

When Saul saw David going out against the Philistine, he said to Abner, the commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is this youth?”

And Abner said, “As your soul lives, O king, I do not know.”

So the king said, “Inquire whose son this young man is.”

Then, as David returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand. And Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?”

So David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.”
1 Samuel 17:55-58

But in Samuel this is an example of psychological realism: Saul’s mental decay has already gone, and is now accelerating as even loyal men, like Abner, no longer treat him like a competent actor. The priest’s forgetting of Mary and Joseph does not teach us a lesson though. It simply indicates Star Wars-quality writing.

The Backstories

The Protoevangelium gives back-stories for numerous characters in the Gospels, including Mary, Joseph, and even minor characters.

Mary, Mother of God

The story of uses Mary to parallel the life of Christ. Christ’s humanity is a vital part of the scriptures, and Christ’s shedding of blood is a lesson: God bleeds and suffers with men.

Mary likewise is a woman and not some abstract platonic spirit, and herself the daughter of a real woman.

The midwife said, “A girl.”

Anna said, “My soul exalts this day.” And she put her baby to bed.

After her days were completed, Anna cleansed her menstrual flow and gave her breast to the child and gave her the name Mary.

Day by day, the child grew stronger. When she was six months old, her mother set her on the ground to test whether she could stand. And after walking seven steps, she came to her mother’s breast.
Protoevangelium 5:7-6:2

Mary was raised in the Temple itself and her approaching menstrual cycles were a topic of discussion for the High Priests:

When she turned twelve, a group of priests took counsel together, saying, “Look, Mary has been in the temple of the Lord twelve years. What should we do about her now, so that she does not defile the sanctuary of the Lord our God?”
Protoevangelium 8:3-4

There are two obvious reasons for this. The first, the shocking claim that God was born of a woman, a claim that in much of the Muslim world can still get one killed, doubtless appealed to women. And the second, that Mary herself was a type of Christ, as is every mother.

Blessed Joseph, Her Spouse

Joseph is specifically invited to be part of a Temple marry-a-virgin contest, and wins it by a miracle. No one in the Gospels ever mentions this, or thinks it relevant to events only a generation later.

Throwing down his ax, Joseph went out to meet them. And after they had gathered together with their rods, they went to the high priest. After receiving everyone’s rod, the high priest went into the temple and prayed. When he was finished with the prayer, he took the rods and went out and gave them to each man, but there was no sign among them. Finally, Joseph took his rod. Suddenly, a dove came out of the rod and stood on Joseph’s head. And the high priest said, “Joseph! Joseph! You have been chosen by lot to take the virgin into your own keeping.”
Protoevangelium 9:1-7

Joseph is a widower, and old man, and the perpetual chastity of the Holy Couple is explained and more plausible in that way.

The Protoevangelium also dramatizes the confrontation between Joseph and Mary as the pregnancy becomes obvious. They are the second couple in this work, after Joachim and Anna, to be well textured.

You can hear their shouting:

In the sixth month of her pregnancy, Joseph came from his house-building and went into the house to find her swelling. And he struck his face and threw himself on the ground in sackcloth and wept bitterly,

And Joseph got up from his sackcloth and called her and said to her,

“After having been cared for by God, what have you done?
Did you forget the Lord your God?
You who were raised in the holy of holies, you who received from the hand of an angel, do you know how much you have humiliated yourself?”

Then, she wept bitterly, saying, “I am pure and I did not know a man.”

And Joseph said to her, “Where did this thing in your womb come from then?”

But she said, “As the Lord my God lives, I do not know where it came from.”
Protoevangelium 13:1-2,6-10

The Saints

Prequels often take place in small worlds, where characters who interacted in the original stories meet each other in different circumstances before.

For example Simeon, mentioned in Luke’s gospel..

And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law
Luke 2:25-27

… turns out to have been the replacement for the father of John the Baptist!

Then, after three days, the priests deliberated about who they should appoint to take the place of Zachariah. And the lot went to Simeon. For he was the one to whom it had been revealed by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he saw the messiah in the flesh.
Protoevangelium 24:12-14

Likewise, Salome, who in Mark’s gospel was with Mary Magdalene in caring for the body of the murdered Christ and entered the hole — the bomb — he was buried in:

Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him.

Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large.

And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.
Mark 16:1-5

finds herself in the same situation, but for the newborn Christ!

And the midwife went in and said, “Mary, position yourself, for not a small test concerning you is about to take place.”

When Mary heard these things, she positioned herself. And Salome inserted her finger into her body. And Salome cried out and said, “Woe for my lawlessness and the unbelief that made me test the living God. Look, my hand is falling away from me and being consumed in fire.”
Protoevangelium 20:1-4

Artistic Choices

There is beautiful writing in the Protoevangelium that echoes the best of the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Bible story of Samuel’s parents, and the emotional pain of childlessness

Then Elkanah her husband said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?”

So Hannah arose after they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the tabernacle of the LORD. And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish.
1 Samuel 1:5-10

is echoed here, in the pain of Joachim and Anna:

Then, Joachim was extremely frustrated and did not appear to his wife, but gave himself to the desert and pitched his tent there. He fasted forty days and forty nights. All the while, Joachim was saying to himself, “I will not go down for food or drink until the Lord my God visits me; prayer will be my food and drink.”

Then, his wife Anna mourned and lamented,

“I lament that I am a widow and I lament that I am childless.”
Protoevangelium 1:9-2:1

But there’s a section which simply seems out of place. It happens once, it is very odd, and I don’t know what to make of it. A passage from the journey to Bethlehem…

When they came to the middle of the journey, Mary said to him, “Joseph, take me off the donkey, the child pushing from within me to let him come out.”

So he took her off the donkey and said to her, “Where will I take you and shelter you in your awkwardness? This area is a desert.”

And he found a cave and led her there and stationed his sons to watch her, while he went to a find a Hebrew midwife in the land of Bethlehem.
Protoevangelium 17:10-18:1

… is suddenly interrupted with a bizarre passage when the tone — and narrator! — of the work changes:

Then, Joseph wandered, but he did not wander.

And I looked up to the peak of the sky and saw it standing still and I looked up into the air. With utter astonishment I saw it, even the birds of the sky were not moving. And I looked at the ground and saw a bowl lying there and workers reclining. And their hands were in the bowl. And chewing, they were not chewing. And picking food up, they were not picking it up. And putting food in their mouths, they were not putting it in their mouths. Rather, all their faces were looking up.

And I saw sheep being driven, but the sheep were standing still. And the shepherd lifted up his hand to strike them, but his hand remained above them. And I saw the rushing current of the river and I saw goats and their mouths resting in the water, but they were not drinking. And suddenly everything was replaced by the ordinary course of events.
Protoevangelium 18:2-11

Eventually, the narrative resumes. The Joseph-narrated portions smoothly flow back into the standard third-person narration while talking about Salome, and by the end James is revealed to be the narrator.

I, James, wrote this history when there was unrest in Jerusalem, at the time Herod died. I took myself into the desert until the unrest in Jerusalem ceased. All the while, I was glorifying God who gave me the wisdom to write this history.

And grace will be with all who fear the Lord.

Amen.
Protoevangelium 25:1-4

I do not know what is happening here. The Book of Ezekiel in particular breaks the reader’s expectations for dramatic effect, spiraling out from Jerusalem to Israel, the neighboring countries, and finally the trans-real Gog and Magog. But is this simply a case of pieced-together fragments that were recognized as such at the time? Is this why the Protoevangelium considered “not only to be rejected but also condemned” since A.D. 405? I don’t know.

The Faith Traditions

Three faith traditions contain material that either comes directly from the Protoevangelium, or else from the lost source that inspired by Protoevangelium: Orthodox Christianity, Catholic Christianity, and Islam. The story of Mary under the care of the Priest Zachariah in Islamic scriptures:

Right graciously did her Lord accept her: He made her grow in purity and beauty: To the care of Zakariya was she assigned. Every time that he entered (Her) chamber to see her, He found her supplied with sustenance. He said: “O Mary! Whence (comes) this to you?” She said: “From Allah. for Allah Provides sustenance to whom He pleases without measure.”

There did Zakariya pray to his Lord, saying: “O my Lord! Grant unto me from Thee a progeny that is pure: for Thou art He that heareth prayer!
Qu’ran 3:37-38

Is clearly from the same tradition, with the same affection for the protagonists, as the Protoevangelium:

When she turned twelve, a group of priests took counsel together, saying, “Look, Mary has been in the temple of the Lord twelve years. What should we do about her now, so that she does not defile the sanctuary of the Lord our God?”

And they said to the high priest, “You have stood at the altar of the Lord. Go in and pray about her. And if the Lord God reveals anything to you, we will do it.”

And the priest went in taking the vestment with twelve bells into the holy of holies and prayed about her. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord stood before him, saying, “Zachariah, Zachariah, depart from here and gather the widowers of the people and let each one carry a staff. And the one whom the Lord God points out with a sign, she will be his wife.” So the heralds went out to the whole surrounding area of Judea and the trumpet of the Lord rang out and all the men rushed in.
Protoevangelium 8:3-9

The Catholic affection of the Protoevangelium is not as explicit but widespread. The names of Jesus’s grandparents, Anna and Joachim, come from this work. Much western art doesn’t make sense without it.

An edited version of the Protoevangelium is included in New Advent’s The Fathers of the Church. And more popularly, a priest on the Catholic media site EWTN explains the work this way:

The Protoevangelium is not to be classed with the Gnostic writings of old, which were products of heretical groups, claiming secret knowledge. On the other hand, as you note, we cannot elevate this work to the level of Sacred Scripture, as it has no guarantee of inerrancy. This early work reflects at least some ancient traditions, held by at least some substantial part of the early Church. As to the general preference for the view that the “brothers” of the Lord are likely kinfolk, and not step-siblings from a previous marriage by Joseph, we have likely been strongly influenced by the Western Fathers, including Saint Jerome, who strongly dismissed the view that they were step-siblings. Saint Jerome had a great command of the ancient languages and customs, and while not an infallible source, is worth attending to.
Answer by Fr. John Echert

These thoughts are echoed by a poster at a forum post for Orthodox Christians:

Is it Scripture? No. Is it infallible? No. Is it accurate in all its details? Probably not. Is it worthless? No. Does it preserve the earliest thoughts about the family life of Christ? Yes. Does it seem to be based on the early Church’s traditions? Yes. Is it the earliest coherent source on the Theotokos? Yes.

The full text of the Protoevangelium‘ is available online. I read the Protoevangelium of James in the Kindle edition translated by James Orr.